B.C. families needing support when a loved one passes away will continue to receive services from funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thursday, the province declared these services essential, which means they will be encouraged to keep operating even if the pandemic requires more business shutdowns and personal isolation.
But how funeral services will be held — and even if they will be held — continues to challenge service providers as they stick to physical distancing rules required by the provincial health authority to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Many people are choosing to hold virtual services, where they webcast a graveside funeral service with no more than 10 people attending or record it for distribution later, while some are simply postponing services.
According to Jason Everden, president of the BC Funeral Association, the vast majority of people are postponing their funeral services during the pandemic. He gave no numbers but said many online obituaries are stating funerals are being delayed.
“A lot of people are postponing funeral services, which is not great — that just postpones grief,” Everden said.
Whether online or in the paper, many obituaries are stating flatly that due to COVID-19 there will be no funeral, some say family members only or a service will be held in the future "when safe."
As a result of the essential-service designation, funeral homes can continue to provide their services to clients over the phone, share documents online, provide death certificates, deal with remains and support families in their time of grief.
Families are also still holding graveside services, Everden said, but these are being kept to no more than 10 people, even though the provincial health officer rules allow for up to 50.
He said having that many people in one place and keeping everybody six feet apart is simply too much of a challenge, and the issue became a particular concern after a cluster of COVID-19 cases erupted after a funeral in Newfoundland.
In the Tri-Cities, funeral homes The Tri-City News contacted said they weren’t holding any services during the pandemic.
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“We’re not having funeral services at this time,” said an official with the Burkeview Funeral Home in Port Coquitlam.
At Burquitlam Funeral Home in Coquitlam, owner Rob McCormick said he made the decision to stop holding services to protect staff and families.
“There is just no possible way to safely guarantee the social distancing. We just made a corporate decision to protect our staff, and protect the community at large, by suspending all funeral services and memorial services at our North Road location,” McCormick said, adding: “Our families are really understanding.”
But his staff can still take care of the remains now, he said, and after recently expanding its morgue in Port Coquitlam, can handle the deceased with dignity.
For service providers, challenges remain because of the shortage of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and eye protection, so every effort will be made to provide services online and over the phone, according to Everden.
As well, doors to funeral homes are kept locked and clients have to make contact over the phone.
Meanwhile, some funeral homes are facing staff shortages, with workers at home sick and in isolation, not sure if they have COVID-19.